The Orioles have announced that starter Chris Tillman is going on the 10-day DL with what the club is calling a lower back strain. He’ll be replaced on the active roster by right-handed reliever Jimmy Yacabonis.
There had been no prior indication that Tillman was dealing with a back issue, though certainly something hasn’t been right for the 30-year-old righty. He has been one of the least-effective pitchers in all of baseball, stumbling through 26 2/3 innings of 10.46 ERA pitching in his seven starts on the year.
Baltimore had promised Tillman $3MM to rejoin the organization after a disastrous 2017 season. The deal included loads of incentives, though they don’t begin to kick in until he reaches 125 innings. Tillman’s performance had already begun to make that number seem steep. It’s not clear how long he’ll be out, but any kind of extended absence would make it all but impossible for Tillman to boost his earnings for the year.
Of course, those financial considerations aren’t really on anyone’s minds at present. The real question is whether the O’s can somehow find a way to get Tillman back to being a serviceable pitcher. If he is on the shelf long enough, he may end up getting some time in the minors on a rehab assignment to try and sort things out.
Answers won’t come easy. His average fastball velocity has continued to fall and now sits below 90 mph. Never much of a strikeout pitcher, Tillman is now only generating a career-low 5.2% swinging-strike rate, with a brutal combination of 4.4 K/9 against 5.7 BB/9. Opponents are swatting more than two homers per nine. Statcast calculations suggest Tillman has deserved to be knocked around, as he’s credited with a .458 xwOBA that’s nearly identical to the .455 wOBA rate at which opposing hitters are producing against him.
As for Yacabonis, he has been starting at Triple-A, so could offer the O’s some length from the pen or a fill-in rotation option. Interestingly, though his, six outings for Norfolk are the first six starts he has ever made as a professional, so odds are he’ll work from the pen. The 26-year-old, who spent some time in the majors last year and has one appearance this season as well, has coughed up 11 earned runs in twenty innings in the highest level of the minors thus far in 2018, with an unfavorable mix of both a dozen walks and strikeouts.